At least 27 people people heading for the UK have died after a migrant boat capsized in the Channel near Calais, the French government has said.
Five women and a girl were among the dead, France’s interior minister said. Four people have been arrested in connection with the fatal crossing.
French Prime Minister Jean Castex said the shipwreck was a “tragedy”.
French interior minister Gérald Darmanin and Home Secretary Priti Patel hit out at the criminal gangs who organise crossings.
Jean-Marc Puissesseau, head of the ports of Calais and Boulogne, told BBC News on Wednesday evening he understood 30 people of the 50 on board had died, with at least five or six rescued. That figure was revised down later.
It comes amid record numbers of people making the crossing – with many continuing to do so in terrible weather conditions.
More than 23,000 people have travelled across the Channel to the UK by boat so far this year, almost triple the 8,400 in 2020, though still far lower than many European countries.
The government has repeatedly vowed to make such crossings “unviable” and given millions to France to tackle the issue. The Home Office last week said the number of refugees who had to be rescued hit 1,131 on a single day – the second highest figure since the crisis began in 2019.
Human rights charity the Joint Council for the Welfare of Immigrants said it was “devastating” news.
“These deaths should not have happened – they were entirely preventable – people seeking refuge need safe routes here,” the charity tweeted.
“How many more people need to die before government stops playing politics with people’s lives?
Patel is under increasing pressure from her own party over the crossings – with Conservative MPs urging the government to scrap human rights laws and disregard international law in a bid to reduce the numbers of asylum seekers crossing the Channel.